October 5, 2015 Subject:
Falling Leaves and Book Leaves
Quite a good film and fascinating as an artifact.
Some key plot elements were borrowed from the O Henry short story, "The Last Leaf." In the O Henry tale a young woman and her sister live in the same rooming house as a middle-aged painter, who is a very good man, but a failure as an artist. The young woman and her sister befriend him.
Our young lady contracts consumption one Fall, grows steadily worse and becomes convinced she is going to die. The doctor has hope but thinks the only way she can survive is if she believes she will.
The patient's sickbed is next to a window from which she can see a bush. As the Fall progresses into Winter, the leaves on the bush turn brown and fall off. The lady is certain that when the last leaf on the bush is gone she will die.
The night of the "crisis" in her illness arrives: if she survives it, she should recover. There is one leaf left on the bush. A howling blizzard develops and roars through the night - no leaf could last through such a storm! At dawn she is weak and teetering between life and death. She looks out the window and in the early light sees that there is still one leaf. She will live.
Some time later the artist is found frozen to death in the street. In his hand was a palette and brushes. The sister looks out the window at the bush and sees a branch pull away from the leaf - but the leaf remains just where it was.
The artist died because he knew the crisis was at hand and wanting to save the lady's life, if possible, went out into the blizzard to paint a leaf on the wall of the building opposite. He then tied a branch so that it lay against the wall to make it look real and it did the trick. It turns out he wasn't a failure as an artist.
O Henry stories always had ironic twists in them and are a lot of fun if that appeals, although they probably would strike many readers today as contrived and naive.
A good movie anthology that dramatizes five of his stories is called, I think, O Henry's Full House, and stars Charles Laughton and a young Richard Widmark, among others. As an added attraction, John Steinbeck plays host, introducing the stories.
"The Last Leaf," is one of the stories dramatized, with Anne Baxter as the consumptive. I am not an admirer of Ms. Baxter, and find her sticky sweetness mode rather cloying, but it works quite well here.
Not very realistic, but nevertheless quite pleasant and enjoyable silent film.
I know this seems strange, but wow, watching a film made 100 years ago...it just amazes me that we can do this.
Reviewer:Wilford B. Wolf
July 24, 2005 Subject:
Extraordinary pioneering filmmaker
This short film deals with "consumption," which is better known as tuberculosis these days, a rather common afflcition in the early part of the 20th century. This is primarily a domestic drama done in only 11 minutes. That is extraordinary is not only the fact that the director is a woman, but that in terms of staging and acting, this plays out more like a film that is 10 or 20 years later.
The film opens with a doctor finding a treatment for tuberculosis. Cut to a domestic scene, where Winifred comes down with a cough. A doctor soon comes to tell her family that she'll be dead by "the time the last leaf falls." Later, her little sister Trixie sneaks out of bed to tie leaves to the trees so her sister won't die. The doctor, who just happened to be walking by, sees Trixie and asks why she is hanging leaves. The doctor comes in and cures Winifred.
While the plot is rather light and not entirely convincing, what is more interesting is how the film is presented. As per this era of film, time move linearly and is shot from a single fixed point in each scene. We do have some hints of parallel time during the scene when Trixie is outside and her governess and mother search for her.
However, in terms of acting, it is remarkably restrained. There is not the overbroad gestures one typically finds in silent films. Most of the staging follows theater conventions, with most characters doing no more than 3/4 closed to the camera. Yet, for this tale, this sort of staging serves it well. This more restrained mode of acting would not become the norm until the advent of sound and the increased use of the close-up.